A few weeks ago my Grandfather passed away. It was hard for me for a variety of reasons. It was the last Grandparent my wife and I had between us. It was challenging for my children, especially my 7 year old son. He had an actual relationship with his GG (what he called my Grandfather). He remembered playing with him. He remembered him walking around. He remembers pictures we have of him and my Grandfather from various times in his life. It was a challenging few days for the funeral, but with family and friends we move on. We have to as death comes to us all eventually and there is no escaping it.
When I think of death and anime, the first series I always think of is Angel Beats. Why? The central premise of the series is that these teenagers are living in an afterlife setting. They are fighting against God; or at least they believe themselves to be battling God. However, if the cast were honest with themselves from the beginning, they would have recognized that they were actually battling themselves for a sense of closure. Acceptance of their death as well as their own lives was a central tenet of the series.
Over time, each member of the cast remembers exactly how they died. They remember the struggles they carried in life. As they roll through the five Kübler-Ross stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), we see the characters grow as individuals. When they finally reach that acceptance stage, they come to terms with all of it and are ready to move on. In the reality of Angel Beats this “moving on” means leaving the world they are in and being reincarnated in the world anew.
When all was said and done, the series ends with everyone finding closure in life, everyone reaching acceptance, everyone moving on…except for Otonashi. Otonashi had accepted his life. He had understood how he died. He had dealt with the grief of his friends dying, but instead of moving on – Otonashi was left behind. He did not move on, he was not reincarnated.
In real life, when we are in the sunset of our own lives we go through these stages of grief and then we move on. As Christians, we have the knowledge that after death comes something better. We have an afterlife and eternity to look forward to with our Creator. For those who do not know Christ, such an afterlife is not what is promised. In the Gospel of Luke, Christ tells us a story about two dead men – one with God, and one away from God in Hell (Luke 16:19-31). It is not a pretty picture and the reality of Hell is peppered throughout the Bible reminding us of the eternal consequences that are at stake. But, while an afterlife is assured one way or another for the deceased, the rest of us are left behind after others have passed. Whether they move on to Heaven or Hell, we are still left grieving.
Especially if we know our loved ones knew Christ and are in Heaven, our grief is not necessarily for our loved ones – but for ourselves. We are saddened because we will not see our lost loved one again. We are sad because our memories are all we have left of our family member or friend. We know that holidays, birthdays, and moments in our lives will pass without that person whom we love. For me, I know my Grandfather will never get to see all of his Great-Grandchildren grow to fully recognize him and spend time with him. Really, as his body broke down, he only got to spend time when he was fully capable with my 7 year old son and some time like that with my 5 year old daughter. Beyond that, most of his time after that he had a broken hip and had limited mobility which became more limited as time progressed. I grieve because I will miss my Grandfather – a World War II Veteran; a first Generation American; a small business owner; a Father to 4; a Grandfather to 13; and a Great-Grandfather to 8. We, like Otonashi, are left behind without that one who we loved anymore.
We go through these stages of grief ourselves and we reach the acceptance phase, or try to, knowing that in the end we have no control over death. Death is and always will be until Christ comes in the end to destroy death…but that is a topic for another piece…
As I continue on, I am reminded of my Grandfather every single time I write this article. You see, I named this column Newman’s Nook for a few reasons, but the primary reason was a sign which hung at my Grandparent’s house as a child. That sign read “Newman’s Nook” and now hangs in my own house.
I will miss him, but I have accepted that he’s gone and am ready to move on. He’ll never be gone from my heart and I’m sure Otonashi feels that way about the friends who have left him. He’ll never forget them and always have a piece of them with him. But eventually, he’ll accept they’re gone…